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Corners await challenge from Miami receivers

Posted Sep 7, 2013

The Cleveland Browns’ defensive backs will be tested by the speed and productivity of Miami’s wide receivers.

Speed. Consistent production. Ability to spread and stretch the field.

When it comes to the Miami Dolphins’ trio of talented wide receivers -- Brian Hartline and recent free-agent signings, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson -- they have a little bit of everything.

In preparing for Sunday’s regular-season opener, Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has mentored and readied three cornerbacks, Joe Haden, Buster Skrine and Chris Owens, for the challenges they will face.

Having readied three cornerbacks earlier in the week could prove beneficial for the Browns, as Skrine suffered a shoulder injury in Thursday’s practice and is “questionable” after he missed Friday’s on-field work.

“We believe we have three starting corners in Haden, Skrine and Christopher Owens, that can go out there and compete, and have competed in the preseason,” Horton said. “Chris is ready to get his first, extended action in a while. I’m very happy, very satisfied with the status of our corners.

“We’ll roll all of them through. It just depends on how (the Dolphins) line up. We don’t know how Coach (Mike) Sherman decides to put his troops out there. We’ll just go out there and if Buster’s guy is inside, Buster will be inside. If Buster’s outside, Joe will be inside. It just depends on how they choose to deploy their troops.”

Each of the Dolphins’ wide receivers provides a different threat, but it is Wallace and Gibson who are most able to stretch the field with their speed.

Wallace came to Miami after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the Steel City, Wallace caught 235 passes for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a career-best 95-yarder during the 2011 season. Wallace had two 1,000-yard seasons (2010-2011), and has caught no less than six touchdowns in any of his seasons.

Gibson has turned 174 catches into 2,090 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged at least 10.2 yards per reception in each of his last four NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

“Mr. Wallace, from Mississippi, is probably the fastest guy, if not, one of the fastest guys in the league, and you have to respect that speed,” Horton said. “It gives them the ability to always have that potential big play on the field. He catches the ball well. He runs, and he’s becoming a well-rounded player from his first year out of Pittsburgh.

“Mr. Gibson out of St. Louis, from Washington State University, looks like he’s going to be their third receiver, their first one (inside). He’s a speed guy that I respected last year when we played him in St. Louis. They believe they’ve put more speed on the field. I’m glad we have Davone Bess here. I think he’s a critical part of what they used to do, and I think they lost something in him. I’m glad he’s on our team now.”

In Hartline, Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a go-to receiver when the down-the-field options were covered. Hartline caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards and one touchdown. His catch and yardage totals were career highs.

“They went out and changed their roster from last year,” Horton said. “Brian Hartline was the one holdover, and he’s a very savvy, crafty guy. I have a lot of respect for him, and it’s come over time, playing him. He can do everything and he does it well. He excels. I think he competes.”

Hartline may be a good competitor in Horton’s eyes, but competing is exactly what Horton expects to see out of the Browns’ defensive players come Sunday.

“We just go play football,” Horton said. “We’re a reflection of what they do. We just react to what we see, and we try to put the best 11, whatever that match-up is.”